Consistency, big plays make Matthew Thomas near-lock for Steelers
The five-star talent and NFL Combine star has lived up to that pedigree throughout the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp.
Don’t let the fact that Matthew Thomas was undrafted fool you. The inside linebacker has some raw talent that belies not only most undrafted players but also many of his teammates who were taken in the top halves of drafts.
Even Mike Tomlin -- not typically one to heap individual praise on players -- had to concede Thursday that Thomas put an “exclamation point” on his preseason with another eye-opening performance in the Steelers’ preseason finale.
“He’s been continually on the rise in terms of his performance,” Tomlin said after the Steelers beat the Carolina Panthers, 39-24, at Heinz Field. “He’s got some physical talent. He’s gained more detail throughout. He put a nice exclamation point on his efforts with a ridiculous splash play there in the second half of the football game.”
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Thomas pulled off the trifecta for defensive player: sack, forced fumble and recovered fumble. He added a 75-yard return for good measure.
“Every game you try to make something happen,” the 6-foot-3, 232-pound Thomas said after the game. “Something happened this game ... So I really glad that happened, and now we’ll just see how things go moving forward.”
Thomas has become the rare undrafted rookie for whom there should be little suspense over the next 48 hours: His spot on the 53-man roster is all but assured. Thomas’ team-highs in total tackles (11) and solo tackles (six) in addition to the splash play capped a camp in which he’s stood out in practices and accumulated tackles in the games.
Truth be told, Thomas likely would not have gone undrafted had he not been suspended for the first six games of what would have been his sophomore season at Florida State or been ruled academically ineligible for the ensuing 2015 season.
One of the more highly-recruited players in the country for the incoming class of 2013, Thomas also had relatively pedestrian production in college for a player with his raw skills.
“I always felt comfortable (I’d make the roster),” Thomas said. “I had a lot of issues in the past so I know that is probably a reason I didn’t get drafted. But I know I had enough in the tank to get drafted. I am just happy for the opportunity the Steelers gave me. They gave me a chance to come and prove myself, so hopefully I did that.”
Thomas briefly left the game in the fourth quarter after his big play because of cramping in his calf but returned and declared himself “all right.”
The only regret Thomas carried Thursday? Missing on a touchdown when he was caught from behind at the 1-yard line by Panthers running back Reggie Bonnafon.
“I just got kind of winded, and the dude came and caught me,” Thomas said.
Only 12 linebackers in the past five NFL Combines ran a faster 40-yard dash time than Thomas (4.58 seconds), so that was embarrassing.
″(Teammates are) talking about, ‘You supposed to be fast, but you got caught,’ ” Thomas said with a smile. “I was kind of winded. But that’s not an excuse. I still should have scored. But he caught me at the 1. That’s kind of laughable, I guess.”